Predicting the future is far from an exact science, especially in the NFL, where turnover is the norm.
And yet, ESPN’s panel of Insider analysts – Louis Riddick, Mike Sando, and Field Yates – were given the task to look three years into the future and predict which NFL teams were in the best shape. The trio was asked to take the team’s roster, quarterback, draft picks, front office, and coaching situation into consideration when rating the teams from top to bottom.
Put it all in a blender, shake it up, and the Bears come out 29th. Ouch. Only the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, and Cleveland Browns have a lower overall score than the Bears’ 67.78. And to see this on the same day Pro Football Talk ranked the Bears 30th on the site’s preseason power rankings is a one-two gut punch that would leave many questioning the franchise’s present and future.
But how did the Bears get here? It’s an ESPN Insider piece, so I won’t share too much, but let’s check out Field Yates’ explanation of the Bears’ placement:
“It’s hard enough for a quarterback to transition to the NFL level as is, but Mitchell Trubisky will face an added challenge of having no established pass-catchers to target. The top wide receiver in Chicago is either Cameron Meredith or Kevin White. Meredith has 77 career catches, while White checked off every physical box coming out of West Virginia, but injuries have essentially rendered him a nonfactor his first two seasons.”
Being a rookie quarterback taking over a 3-13 team that hasn’t had an elite player at the WR position in nearly seven decades is the most unenviable position in sports. However, GM Ryan Pace prepared for that by signing Mike Glennon and handing him the starting job, while the team groomed Trubisky and signed an experienced backup (who also happens to have experience handling the pressure that comes with being a hot-shot prospect in a major media market). It’s not as if the Bears are going to throw Trubisky to the wolves right away with an undermanned receiving corps and questions at tackle. In fact, they’ve safe-guarded Trubisky from that exact situation – something Yates seems to overlook in his assessment.
Despite being ranked in the bottom tier in part because of the quarterback situation (even though ESPN ranks it 19th, for what it’s worth), whoever ends up playing the position long-term isn’t the biggest worry for Riddick. In fact, it’s the GM-coach dynamic between Ryan Pace and John Fox:
“The relationship (or lack thereof) between GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox is concerning, and conflict between key decision-makers can become an insurmountable obstacle for a rebuilding team. Before anything can really be accomplished, this situation needs to be resolved one way or another.”
The only relationship more important than the one between a quarterback and his head coach is the one between the coach and the general manager. That relationship has been in question since the rumor mill churned out reports that Fox was left in the dark regarding the team’s selection of Trubisky in April’s draft. Both Pace and Fox debunked the rumor early in the post-draft process, with Pace saying he and Fox were “arm-in-arm” in the decision to trade up and draft Trubisky. It was part of the ugly round of early post-draft reports (which were just the beginning) that seemingly won’t go away until the season starts.
Leave it to Sando to provide a silver lining of sorts in the “What could change for the better” category:
“The coaching outlook for the Bears is brutal (31st) mainly because it appears unlikely that Fox will survive the next season or two. It’s tough to feel much optimism for Fox & Co. right now. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Bears will have terrible coaches three seasons down the line. They could keep the current group or attract top coaching talent if the as-yet unknown Trubisky hits his stride over the next two seasons.”
To summarize: Chicago’s coaching situation could get better if the team parts ways with Fox, but the current outlook is bad because it appears unlikely that the coach leading the 31st-rated situation will survive the next season or two.
The Bears’ ranking seems to be based on a poor quarterback situation (that might not actually exist), a since-debunked rumor of draft-night disagreements at the top, and a coaching situation that could get better – or worse. It might have been easier to simply write: Predicting the Bears’ three-year future is an exercise in futility, because of the variables that cannot be accounted for at this time.
But where is the fun in that?